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Morning Poll: Arlington’s Tax Rate

by ARLnow.com | March 27, 2014 at 10:25 am | 973 views | No Comments

County Board budget hearing on 3/26/13The Arlington County Board will hold its annual public hearing on the county’s tax rate tonight (Thursday).

The hearing will start at 7:00 p.m. at the Arlington County Board offices at 2100 Clarendon Blvd. Residents can sign up to be one of the speakers commenting on the tax rate at the hearing.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan has proposed holding the property tax rate steady at $1.006 for every $100 in assessed value. Because the County Board advertised no change to the tax rate, it can now only set a tax rate at or below the current rate.

Nonetheless, numerous groups and individuals believe that the county should spend more on affordable housing, the social safety net and other priorities — spending that would require either cuts elsewhere or higher taxes. At the same time, some say the tax rate should be lowered.

If they could, would you support the County Board raising taxes?
 

The Right Note: Another Surplus Won’t Be Returned to Taxpayers

by Mark Kelly | March 20, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 915 views | No Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyA Sun Gazette editorial this week joined me in calling for the inevitable tax revenue surpluses to be returned to taxpayers. As I have written more than once here, it appears as though County staff intentionally underestimates revenue every year in order to make the case for higher taxes.

At the end of the year, the Board then uses close out spending to increase spending outside of the annual budget process. They are on track to dole out tens of millions again this year while our average tax burden will rise with the rising assessments.

Yet, even with millions more to spend, it is unlikely that our Board will get the job done on basic infrastructure maintenance needs to prevent future pothole and water main break outbreaks. On the flip side, paying for another million dollar bus stop that will not keep you dry when it rains or snows is not out of the question.

Next week, you will have an opportunity to testify before the County Board on behalf of lower tax rates. A few hearty souls will most likely join you Thursday evening on your quixotic quest. Not only does the Board’s track record of raising taxes make it quixotic, but two days earlier, the Board will have heard from ten times as many people about how to spend even more of your hard-earned tax dollars.

In what you may not necessarily think of as a related story this week, I was reminded that the Arlington Chamber of Commerce is searching for a new president. We need a strong and vibrant business community in Arlington. Not only will it provide jobs for our residents, but it will maintain a strong commercial real estate tax base which ensures our residential tax rates do not skyrocket even higher.

The next Arlington Chamber president will need to step up the pressure on the County Board to make business formation and expansion easier in Arlington. These efforts are needed in order to make our community more attractive to job creators. Working with the County Board to make Arlington more business friendly will be a tough job for sure, but one that will benefit us all in the long run.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

Peter’s Take: Arlington’s Property Tax Bills Highest in NoVa

by Peter Rousselot | March 20, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 1,783 views | No Comments

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter Rousselot

A Washington Post story last week revealed that Arlington County’s property tax bills (as distinguished from Arlington County’s property tax rate) are at the very top of all localities in Northern Virginia.

A graphic accompanying the Post story compares average property tax bills from the respective NOVA jurisdictions. Arlington has surged to No. 1.

Arlington County Board members continually try to obscure this fact by boasting that Arlington’s property tax rate is in the middle of the NOVA pack or lower. Jay Fisette said this again in his 2014 New Year’s Day speech. The Post graphic confirms it.

However, the vast majority of Arlington’s property owners care about their bottom line — their property tax bills – not the property tax rate in isolation. If the property assessment system is working fairly, the County Board cannot directly control assessments. But, the Board can control our property tax bills by lowering the property tax rate. The Board did just that in the early part of the last decade.

This Board has made it very hard for itself to lower the property tax rate because of the Board’s own past misspending — and commitments for future misspending — on vanity projects like:

At the same time this Board is wasting our money on projects like these, it is not spending a large enough share of the tax money we provide for:

If the County Board were to lower the property tax rate for FY 2015, while at the same time pressing forward with its vanity projects, then funding for core services would suffer even more than such funding is suffering now. Alas, there is no sign that a majority of current County Board members intend to pull back from their commitments to their vanity projects.

Although we are not coming close to getting the value we deserve for our No. 1 ranking, I would not like to see this Board cut the property tax rate unless it simultaneously drops all of its vanity projects.

It’s time to alter the insular status quo on the current Board by electing new members whom we can confidently conclude will:

  • vote to end wasteful spending on all vanity projects, and
  • concentrate spending on core services.

Then we could get a break on our surging property tax bills.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

Letter to the Editor: The Affordable Housing Case for Streetcar

by ARLnow.com | March 15, 2014 at 9:00 am | 2,261 views | No Comments

The following letter to the editor was submitted by former Arlington County Housing Director Ken Aughenbaugh.

I recently returned to private consulting after thirty years with Arlington County Government’s various housing programs. From 2003-2013, I served as Housing Division Chief/County Housing Director – charged with leading and managing housing policy, program and project initiatives under direction of the County Board and County Manager. I had previously served with District of Columbia non-profits, and as a training and course development consultant under contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). During my 35-year career in affordable housing, I have worked with dozens of jurisdictions across the US on housing-related initiatives, ranging from energy conservation to homelessness and transit-oriented development. It is from this perspective, I now feel compelled to share my views on Arlington’s planned streetcar lines and, especially, why it is of critical importance to preserving thousands of affordable homes along Columbia Pike.

Thirty years ago when I moved across the river from DC, Arlington was still a relatively sleepy, primarily residential “bedroom” community. The commercial base consisted of high-rise office buildings in Rosslyn and Crystal City. The retail zones in the Rosslyn-Ballston (RB) corridor were declining. Housing was relatively cheap, and owners were happy to work with the County to rehab and commit a unit at affordable rents for five years in exchange for a $5,000 matching grant. Owners could make a profit, the County was able to use only its federal Community Development Block Grant Funds – no local tax funds were needed.

As Metrorail took hold along with the County’s effort to revitalize the RB corridor, the goal of a 50/50 mix of commercial to residential tax revenue was achieved. This helped Arlington to achieve the lowest real estate tax rate in the region, and maintain its “triple-triple A” bond rating. The unintended consequence of this success, however, was – and is – the intense pressure on housing affordability. As the job base grew, and our great location lured more businesses and residents – real estate values and rents grew exponentially. Our County programs could no longer attract owners to partner on affordable housing. Owners could do better by charging market rents without government “strings.”

In 1988, the County Board adopted several game-changing initiatives, including bonus density if developers included affordable housing in residential “Site Plan” projects, and cash contributions from commercial projects. The County also created the Housing Fund Contingent, now known as the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) program using local tax revenue to assist non-profit and willing for-profit developers with low interest loans to help write-down the costs of affordable housing projects. To date, these efforts have created over 6,600 units of affordable housing or roughly 15% of the County’s total rental housing stock.

(more…)

Peter’s Take: Empowered Women International

by Peter Rousselot | March 13, 2014 at 1:45 pm | 374 views | No Comments

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotI occasionally like to highlight nonprofits who are offering valuable services and programs in Arlington. Today, I’m focusing on Empowered Women International (EWI).

EWI creates jobs and economic empowerment through entrepreneurship training, mentoring and support services for immigrant, refugee, and low-income women throughout the D.C. metro area, including in Arlington. EWI core services include:

  • Yearlong entrepreneurship training incubator,
  • Mentoring and support services for micro-enterprises,
  • Access to professional networks, investment capital and public marketplaces.

Immigrant and refugee women represent a source of potential economic enrichment and multicultural understanding for their communities; however too often they are marginalized and their capabilities under-utilized. A survey of EWI’s women beneficiaries showed that 80 percent were working professionals in their home countries, but had an annual income of less than $5,000 when they first came to EWI.

In the past five years, EWI has launched 180 micro-enterprises — 70 percent of which are still in existence. Graduates’ increased income supports economic growth in our region through tax revenue, additional job creation and purchasing of supplies and services from other local businesses.

Graduates become volunteers and leaders within their communities through EWI’s required “each one, teach one” community enrichment program. EWI programs transform women from a population in need of support to an income-generating population giving support and leading change in their communities.

On March 18, EWI will be providing an opportunity for women to earn a scholarship into their business entrepreneurship program. Participants will have three minutes to verbally present a concise, clear and powerful description of their business idea. A panel of business experts then will provide feedback and select those who will participate in the program.

To pitch your business idea, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Be an immigrant, refugee or low-income American-born woman,
  • Have a business in idea stage, hobby business, or 24-36 months into the business,
  • Be able to participate in online and offline training and mentoring program,
  • Have a good command of both written and spoken English,
  • Have basic computer skills for writing and online research.

“Being a part of EWI makes you feel part of a larger whole,” Sushmita Mazumdar, an Arlington resident and owner of Studio Pause, says, and “it gives you credibility as an entrepreneur because so many people, businesses and professionals are part of EWI’s network.”

With support from EWI, Mazumdar received a micro-loan of $5,000 to open Studio Pause, a community art and cultural studio that brings together adult and children alike to create art, write and tell their stories.

If you are looking for other ways to get involved in EWI’s activities, those are summarized here.

EWI is performing a valuable community service here in Arlington and throughout the D.C. metro region.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

The Right Note: Make Medicaid Expansion a Separate Issue

by Mark Kelly | March 13, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 651 views | No Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyLast fall, as the fiscal year closed in Washington, Republicans in Congress asked President Obama to consider repealing or delaying, part or all of, the Affordable Care Act. President Obama refused to negotiate on the issue. The result of the impasse was a 17-day partial government shutdown.

Republicans, arguing the president’s signature legislative initiative might not be ready for prime time, were panned for holding the federal budget hostage over Obamacare. As it turns out, the initial sign-up phase was a mess. Since then, the Obama Administration has announced several additional delays for employers and individuals necessitated by unfortunate realities of the law.

Now, Democrats in Richmond, lead by Governor Terry McAuliffe, are threatening not to agree to a state budget unless Republicans relent and agree to expand the Medicaid provisions of Obamacare into Virginia. This a reversal of the Democrat’s previous talking point that holding up a spending bill over legislation relating to Obamacare is unacceptable.

Expanding Medicaid would bring more borrowed federal dollars into Virginia initially, but those 90-100 percent federal subsidies will not last indefinitely. As Congress faces long-term budget realities and inevitably must lower the subsidies below 90 percent, Medicaid expansion would begin to crowd out other state budget priorities like education, transportation and public safety at an even faster pace than it is currently.

Currently, Medicaid costs almost $9 billion a year and consumes about 22 percent of our general fund budget in Virginia. It is the fastest-growing part of our budget, growing at an average of eight percent annually.

Moreover, it may not just be the subsidies themselves that drive up the costs of providing health care through Medicaid in Virginia. According to some, around one-third of doctors are already unwilling to accept Medicaid patients due to reimbursement rates that are substantially lower than private-sector health care coverage. Flooding an additional 400,000 Virginians into the existing pool of doctors will drive the percentage who can see a primary care physician down even further. This will leave many Medicaid patients with no option but to use emergency rooms for acute needs.

A Harvard study that looked at outcomes of a 2008 expansion of Medicaid in Oregon confirmed that it dramatically increased emergency room use — driving people into the highest-cost health care option. This finding goes against the promise of the Affordable Care Act that expanding Medicaid would help bend the health care cost curve down.

Low Medicaid reimbursement rates coupled with increased use of both emergency rooms and doctor visits will also shift even more costs for providing health care to private sector health plans. This will force more middle class Virginians to make more tough choices in their family budgets as premiums rise in the coming years.

All told, there are simply too many unanswered questions surrounding Medicaid expansion in Virginia to demand it be included in this budget. Governor McAuliffe and Democrats in Richmond should accept the budget that has been agreed to, and then take Republicans up on their offer to hold a special session to fully debate Medicaid expansion.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

The Right Note: Per Pupil Spending to Go Up

by Mark Kelly | March 6, 2014 at 1:45 pm | 983 views | No Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyLast week, Arlington Public Schools’ Superintendent Patrick Murphy released his proposed budget. The total price tag is $539.4 million. Murphy reported per pupil spending would climb to $19,244. Those numbers were reinforced in a presentation by Arlington School Board members at this week’s Civic Federation meeting.

By way of comparison, tuition and fees this year at Marymount University are $26,430. Full-time tuition and fees for Spring 2014 at George Mason University are $5,129 for a new, in-state student — just over $10,000 total for a school year.

The APS budget proposes to make an iPad or tablet available to every second grader as well as a Chromebook for every sixth grader. It looks at the future possibility of providing foreign language instruction at every elementary school. And, it reflects higher health-care costs.

It is likely there are many line items in the budget that will come under intense scrutiny over the coming weeks and months before it is finalized in May. The purpose of this column is not to question specific line items within the school budget, but to question whether the presentation of the budget should under-report the actual total per pupil cost in our school budget?

The projected enrollment for the next school year is 24,153. If you divide $539.4 million by the projected enrollment, the per pupil cost is $22,333 — not $19,244.

It goes without saying that $3,089 per student is not a small difference. It adds up to more than $74 million that would not be accounted for in the total budget when you multiply the difference by the enrollment.

There is almost certainly an accounting rationale for Superintendent Murphy’s use of a per pupil spending figure that is $3,089 less than it actually is. However, if you are going to claim you are giving the taxpayers a per pupil cost, it should actually reflect the total cost per pupil to provide education to Arlington students.

The questions remains then, why does the APS budget report per pupil costs this way? It is a question our School Superintendent and School Board should answer.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

Peter’s Take: Arlington’s Commercial Assessment Fiasco

by Peter Rousselot | March 6, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 1,488 views | No Comments

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotWhy?

That’s the key question after ARLnow.com broke the story last week about Arlington’s skyrocketing commercial property assessments.

Fair market value can rise or fall from year to year, but as Ellis Schaeffer commented last week:

[H]ow do you explain an average of [a] 65.8% increase on the 11 business survey provided in the article? Is it merely a change in methodology? Did I miss the singular event in the past 365 days (i.e., mineral deposits, or a new casino) that made Clarendon properties suddenly SIGNIFICANTLY more valuable?

In one fell swoop, Arlington’s commercial assessment fiasco has cast a dark cloud over all of the following:

  • the new initiatives for economic competitiveness touted in the County Board Chair’s New Year’s Day speech,
  • the integrity of Arlington’s commercial property assessment process (is it properly insulated from politics?), and
  • the reliability of the revenue forecasts in Arlington’s FY 2015 budget (which depend upon the validity of the valuation of Arlington’s commercial real estate).

In the wake of this ARLnow.com bombshell, these are the elements of the public statement that the County Board should have issued:

We

  • are alarmed by the enormous annual increases in so many commercial property assessments,
  • are determined to get to the bottom of this, and
  • have directed the County Manager to analyze and share with the public relevant information about each of these categories of commercial property:
    1. all properties assessed at a value 50 percent or more than last year,
    2. all properties assessed at a value that is between 40 percent and 49 percent more, and between 30 percent and 39 percent more, than last year, and
    3. all properties which experienced value increases in those same three percentage brackets (30 to 39, 40 to 49, and 50 or more), for each of the prior two years (from FY 2012 to FY 2013, and from FY 2013 to FY 2014).

ARLnow.com profiled 11 commercial properties in Clarendon alone. But, Michelle Cowan, Arlington’s Director of Management and Finance, advised the County Board there were about 90 commercial properties County-wide that increased in value by 50 percent or more.

I find both numbers (11 and 90) to be large and disturbing. But, limiting any review only to those 90 properties — as the County Government is planning — is far too narrow an approach.

To really get to the bottom of this, and ensure transparency, we need a much broader compilation, analysis and public discussion.

The County Board should step up now, and direct the County Manager immediately to broaden the inquiry to include all of the additional categories of commercial property — noted above — that are now conspicuously missing from the announced plan.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

Letter to the Editor: The Real Case for APS Funding

by ARLnow.com | March 1, 2014 at 3:00 pm | 1,452 views | No Comments

The following letter to the editor was submitted by former School Board member Ed Fendley.

Peter Rousselot is right to argue for increased school funding, but wrong to claim that there is a systematic bias against local funding for Arlington Public Schools.

What matters for students and teachers is the actual amount of funds provided each year.

By this measure, support for our schools has deservedly and substantially grown in recent years. By any recognized standard, APS is one of the best-funded systems in the nation.

School-budget funding is poised to rise again if the County Board approves the County Manager’s proposed 4.7% funding boost for APS or, hopefully, an even greater amount.

But instead of considering actual funding and actual needs, Rousselot focuses on the irrelevant statistic that school operations as a percent of the overall county budget is lower than in some previous years.

By this flawed metric, the U.S. military is also grossly underfunded. Military outlays as a percent of the federal budget are smaller today. than in the 1950′s or 60′s — never mind that actual defense spending has sharply increased in real dollars,

It is in the interest of Arlington Public Schools to focus on the actual amount of funding received from the county, not the percent this represents of the county budget. This is especially the case because in years when county revenue is static or declining (yes, it does happen in Arlington) our schools would otherwise be at risk of underfunding.

In the midst of rising enrollment and increasing educational needs, the Arlington schools budget is a legitimate area of discussion. But this should be done on the basis of real numbers, not the irrelevant figures that Rousselot presents.

Ed Fendley served on the Arlington County School Board from 2006-2010 and is a founder of the Arlington Egg Project.

To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to arlingtonnews@gmail.com. Letters to the editor may be edited for content and brevity.

Peter’s Take: Board Continues Shortchanging Our Schools

by Peter Rousselot | February 27, 2014 at 1:45 pm | 1,658 views | No Comments

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThe proposed FY 2015 Arlington County Budget continues the Arlington County Board’s pattern of providing too small a share of our tax dollars to Arlington Public Schools (APS).

Background

While school enrollment is projected to continue to surge, and while educational challenges are continuing to rise, APS’ share of the tax revenue we provide to the County was shrinking even prior to the latest County-proposed budget:

“The share of revenue that APS has received from the County has declined in recent years, from 46.1 percent in FY 2011 and FY 2012 to 45.6 percent in FY 2014,” School Board Chair Abby Raphael wrote in an open letter to County Board Chair Jay Fisette.

The FY 2015 Budget

Despite repeated pleas last fall from parents to the County Board to rectify this inequity — pleas that were rudely and inappropriately criticized by some County Board members — the latest proposed County budget fails to rectify the inequity. It still proposes the 45.6 percent shrunken share.

On Feb. 21, the School Board once again requested that the share be restored to 46.1 percent.  If granted, this increase would produce an additional $4.8 million in revenue in FY2015.

Why is the County Board continuing to shortchange our public schools?

Why have we gotten to the point where the School Board feels compelled to write a public letter to the County Board asking the County Board to restore APS’ historic share of the tax dollars we pay? Why do some members of the County Board tell members of the taxpaying public (who fund our government 24/7/365) that there are only certain months each year when the public can ask the County Board for more resources for our schools?

If anything, the School Board was too deferential when its Chair noted in her letter that “the School Board understands that the County Board has many priorities to balance in meeting the needs of our residents.” The persistent problem the School Board faces is that the County Board has the wrong priorities.

The County Board’s priorities are wrong because the County Board is:

  • committing our money to vanity projects like an unnecessary $310+ million Columbia Pike streetcar, a gold-plated $80+ million Aquatics Center, and an extravagant $1.7 million Clarendon dog park;
  • pouring our money into tax increment financing schemes (TIF). Under TIF, increased revenues amounting to millions of dollars are no longer available to fund any other services such as schools;
  • failing to give first priority to using our money to fund core services like schools.

In these times of surging enrollment and new instructional challenges, APS deserves an even higher share of our money than the School Board seeks in its Feb. 21 letter. 

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

The Right Note: Your Tax Dollars at Work

by Mark Kelly | February 27, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 1,228 views | No Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyThe argument was never really about whether or not Arlington would have a year-round homeless shelter. It always centered around whether or not to spend $2-3 million to retrofit the old shelter versus moving it to 2020 14th Street N. where neighbors did not want it, and spending considerably more than the retrofit would cost.

This week, the County Board approved the construction contract to begin the extensive work on the new location. The construction price tag is as much as $6.6 million. This is on top of $1.5 million in design and administrative costs, and over $750,000 for furnishings, security and IT equipment.

These are not the only costs that should be considered when looking at the shelter. The Board paid just over $27 million for the building in late 2012. Just two months later, it was assessed at just $21.4 million – which was an increase of nearly $3.5 million over the year before. For 2014, the assessment is up to $22.9 million.

Whether you think the Board paid 50 percent too much for the building based on the 2012 assessment, or just 26 percent too much based on the 2013 assessment, one thing is clear — the Board overpaid for the property. And, at nearly $36 million when all is said and done, the Board may have paid over 10 times more than a retrofit would have cost.

In the same week we hear from Arlington County staff that a big reason there are so many potholes is that the roads have not been properly maintained.

It is the same modus operandi I write about often in this space — our County Board is not ashamed about overspending on the big ticket items while pushing some of the basics to the back burner. Sometimes it makes you wonder if Arlington County means “spend indiscriminately” in Latin?

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

Letter to the Editor: Why the Streetcar Will Benefit All of Arlington

by ARLnow.com | February 22, 2014 at 12:00 pm | 4,073 views | No Comments

Rendering of a streetcar along Columbia Pike

The following letter to the editor was submitted by David DeCamp.

Sometimes when you fly into National Airport you get a perfect view of the buildings that comprise the Rosslyn-Ballston (R-B) corridor.

The tallest buildings are clustered around the metro stations and then taper off to garden apartments, single family houses and lots of trees. This is my “visual” for a turn-around story of epic proportions, and a template for why I am sure the streetcar system will benefit all of Arlington.

In the face of economic decline and even a shrinking population in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, visionaries like Arlington County Manager Burt Johnson boldly campaigned and cajoled naysayers to get the Blue and Orange Lines routed through Arlington with nine or ten stops inside the County. Then enlightened urban planning processes, starting with a document known as “R-B ’72,” articulated the tapered bulls-eye build-out around the future metro stations. The Blue Line opened in 1977 followed by the Orange Line in 1979. Arlington started to grow again. Because the urban planning and the rail-transit investments were coordinated early on, Arlington got more economic return out of Metro than any other jurisdiction.

How much more?

Consider this. I was fortunate enough to be part of a development team that built a mixed-use project on most of a city block near the Clarendon Metro Station. When we bought the parcel in the early 2000’s, it looked like a typical part of today’s Columbia Pike (a two-acre parking lot surrounding an old grocery structure). The annual real estate taxes were $100,000. Now that the ten-story Station Square project is built and occupied, it produces over $1,500,000 in real estate taxes each year. That’s an astounding 1,500% increase. Arlington collects this payment year after year and the occupants use almost no county services.

Take this one example and multiply it by about 200 other buildings in the transit-oriented development corridors that pay us a handsome annual dividend on our investment in transit and that is “The Arlington Miracle.”

As a result, Arlington’s businesses and residents enjoy the lowest tax rate in Northern Virginia and arguably the highest quality of life. We have more office space than downtown Dallas or Atlanta. Forty-nine percent of all tax receipts in Arlington come from businesses. Our businesses pay enough taxes to cover Arlington’s entire annual transfer payment for our high-achieving public school system. Believe me, when it costs around $18,000 a year for each student in the public schools, and most single family home-owners in Arlington pay less than $8,000 in real estate taxes, we need to encourage a robust and growing business tax base in Arlington.

The streetcar routes planned for Columbia Pike and continuing through Crystal City are using the same tried-and-true combination of coordinated urban planning in conjunction with appropriately sized transit investments. The transit and the enhanced development are inextricably linked. You can’t have one without the other. Scores of new buildings, comprising millions of square feet, have been planned through extensive community processes and scaled to suit the aspirations of the neighboring stake-holders. Buses alone do not have the required characteristics or capacity to move the projected growth.

And note: while the density increase is significant, the planned buildings for the Pike are not even half as large as those found in Rosslyn or Ballston. However, harkening back to The Arlington Miracle, early indications show us that we can expect the streetcar corridors to induce new transit-oriented buildings that yield a 500% increase in real estate taxes on re-developed sites. The Arlington streetcars will pay us back with a handsome and increasing return on investment.

Quoting retired Virginia state Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, from her April 2013 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Metrorail turned Arlington around, streetcars will keep it moving forward.”

David DeCamp is a real estate developer and sales agent. He is the immediate past-Chair of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and serves on the board of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO). David is a 2004 graduate of Leadership Arlington. According to DeCamp, he owns interests in commercial property in North Arlington but has no financial interest in any real estate in South Arlington. His views are his own.

To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to arlingtonnews@gmail.com. Letters to the editor may be edited for content and brevity.

The Right Note: Pothole Problems

by Mark Kelly | February 20, 2014 at 1:45 pm | 1,069 views | No Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyWe have a pothole problem in Arlington. Whether your preferred mode of transportation is a bike, car or bus, you know what I am talking about.

If you drive around Arlington much these days, the pothole slalom is happening multiple times per trip. I even saw one pothole today that someone had put an orange traffic cone in, presumably to alert drivers of just how bad it was.

Unfortunately, there is only so much swerving you can do and still remain in your lane of travel to avoid them. Sooner or later, your tire will drop in. You will hear a loud thud. And, you will hold your breath hoping you didn’t leave a piece of your car behind.

Cars are getting flat tires, bent rims, and damaged suspensions. Potholes are a problem only a car service station owner doesn’t mind so much.

With colder than usual temperatures and higher than normal amounts of snow, we cannot blame the Arlington County Board for the existence of potholes. However, we should be watching to see how quickly the problem is remedied.

The changing temperatures this winter have also brought on a series of water main breaks – two within a block and a half on my street alone. My counterpart at Peter’s Take covered this issue at length last week.

Replacing aging infrastructure and other ongoing maintenance issues often seem to get the short end of stick in the budget. Instead, we tend to focus on debates over the cost of swimming palaces, trolleys and arts centers. This is what you could call the “shiny new toy” syndrome. Elected officials often like to point at grand building projects and say “look what I did.”

What the shiny toy debates teach us is that the problems with addressing basic infrastructure needs is not a money problem — it is a priority problem.

Like it or not, if you are a local office holder you are responsible to the voters for street lights, trash pickup, potholes, and many other unglamourous issues that impact people’s everyday lives. The level of constituent service you provide when it comes to seemingly mundane problems is the true test of the type of public servant you really are.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

Peter’s Take: Reforming Virginia’s Mental Health System, Part II

by Peter Rousselot | February 20, 2014 at 1:00 pm | No Comments

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIn a January column, I outlined why Virginia’s mental health system desperately needed reform. I mentioned a series of recent tragic incidents of violence perpetrated by mentally ill individuals.

In one of those incidents, the 24 year-old son of state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) stabbed his father multiple times, and then shot himself to death. “Gus” Deeds had been released from an expired emergency custody order 13 hours before the incident. He was released because an appropriate psychiatric bed for him could not be found before the emergency custody order expired.

In January, efforts were just getting underway to address some of these issues in this year’s Virginia legislative session. We now have passed the mid-point (known as “Crossover”) in the legislative session. Progress is being made toward enacting some of the mental health reforms that are needed.

Both houses of the legislature are calling for significant new investments in the portion of our mental health system that offers mental health treatment to people in crisis situations. This includes new initiatives to:

  • fund more beds at state psychiatric hospitals for patients who are held under temporary custody orders,
  • fund more therapeutic assessment centers to serve individuals in psychiatric crisis situations,
  • reduce the amount of time law enforcement must devote to emergency custody cases, and

The House of Delegates version of the legislation proposes new funding to add 17 new therapeutic assessment centers in the next two years. These centers are locations to which law enforcement personnel can transport people in crisis for psychiatric evaluation to determine whether they pose a threat to themselves or others. The centers are tied to other proposals — referenced above — to expand the duration of emergency custody orders without placing an undue burden on police and sheriff’s departments who transport people in crisis. These law enforcement personnel now have to wait in the center until the evaluation is complete.

This bipartisan legislative progress deserves our support and praise.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

Peter’s Take: Water Main Breaks

by Peter Rousselot | February 13, 2014 at 1:45 pm | 911 views | No Comments

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotOn Feb. 7, ARLnow.com reported on two separate water main breaks – one on Arlington Ridge Road and one on Lee Highway.

These two water main breaks illustrate yet another respect in which the County Board’s budget priorities are badly out of whack. The County Board has spent, or is proposing to spend, millions of dollars on extravagant design elements at a dog park in Clarendon and an Aquatics Center at Long Bridge Park, while Arlington’s water mains and classrooms are bursting.

On Jan. 28, ARLnow.com posted another story on water main breaks. That story highlighted the fact that “Arlington has 500 miles of water mains, 60 percent of which are 55 years or older”, with the oldest dating to 1927.

A county video accompanying the Jan. 28 story sometimes strikes a condescending tone. It proceeds from the faulty premise that water main breaks are “unavoidable.” The video’s message: learn to live with them. The video explains why old water mains break. Surprise: it’s because they’re old and decaying!

What Arlington County needs is a much more aggressive program of water main replacement, not the Que Será, Será attitude displayed in this county video. Of course, some water mains would still break even with a more aggressive replacement program. But, we would avoid many other breaks. The County Board knows this. The Board simply is devoting far too little of our money to replace water mains, while devoting far too much of our money to its vanity projects.

In May 2013, the County Board approved a $1.8 million project for water main “rehabilitation.” “These rehabilitation projects help the County extend the life of water mains and lines, stretch tax dollars and prevent expensive and disruptive main breaks,” Walter Tejada boasted.

The county’s press release went on to explain that “every year, the County selects water mains based on age, frequency of main breaks, and reduction in flow capacity for rehabilitation at a fraction of the cost of new construction and with minimal disruption to the community.”

Translation: we are putting lipstick on a pig because we are squandering your money elsewhere. We are adopting this rehabilitation program because we don’t have enough money left over to replace our aging water mains as fast as we should.

“Rehabilitating” water mains and providing more “relocatable” classrooms is a cop out. Arlington County needs to get back to basics by prioritizing the needs of its core services like water mains and schools.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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